Pressure mounts for inquiry into Israeli troops firing on Gazans waiting for aid

FILE PHOTO: Palestinians gather as they wait for trucks carrying bags of flour to arrive, near an Israeli checkpoint, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City February 26, 2024. REUTERS/Mahmoud Issa/File Photo

By John Irish and James Mackenzie

PARIS/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Pressure mounted on Israel on Friday over the deaths of dozens of Palestinians during a confused incident in the Gaza Strip in which crowds surrounded a convoy of aid trucks and soldiers opened fire, with several countries backing a U.N. call for an inquiry.

Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces had killed more than 100 people trying to reach a relief convoy near Gaza City early on Thursday, with famine looming nearly five months into the war that began with a Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

Israel blamed most of the deaths on crowds that swarmed around aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over. An Israeli official also said troops had “in a limited response” later fired on crowds they felt had posed a threat.

Although the accounts of what happened differed sharply, the incident has underscored the collapse of orderly aid deliveries in areas of Gaza occupied by Israeli forces, with no administration in place and the main U.N. agency UNRWA hamstrung by an inquiry into alleged links with Hamas.

“We’ve asked the government of Israel to investigate, and it’s our assessment that they’re taking this seriously,” U.S. national security spokesperson John Kirby (NYSE:KEX) told reporters on Friday.

“They are looking into what occurred, so as to avoid tragedies like this from happening again.” He said the Biden administration trusted Israel to complete its own investigation, adding that “we don’t have enough information” to verify its account of what happened.

The Hamas attack on Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and involved the seizure of 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s military campaign has since killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.

With a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza, many countries have urged a ceasefire, but U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday’s incident will complicate talks for a deal involving a truce and hostage release.

India said it was “deeply shocked” at the deaths and Brazil said the incident was beyond “ethical or legal limits.”

South Africa, which has brought a genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, condemned the deaths. Israel denies genocide.

France and Germany have backed a call for an international inquiry. French President Emmanuel Macron voiced “deep indignation” and the “strongest condemnation of these shootings”. Germany said “the Israeli army must fully explain how the mass panic and shooting could have happened.”

In Israel, ultra-rightwing security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir urged “total support” to Israeli soldiers who had “acted excellently against a Gazan mob that tried to harm them”.

A columnist in the biggest daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said the incident would “create a turning point in the war” and could “exert international pressure that Israel will not be able to withstand, including from the White House.”


A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in the Gaza Strip, particularly the north, after nearly five months of an Israeli air and ground campaign that has ruined swathes of the crowded coastal enclave and pushed it to the edge of famine.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who also called for an inquiry, said Israel had a responsibility to ensure more aid reached Gaza by opening more crossings and removing bottlenecks and bureaucratic obstacles.

“This must not happen again,” he said in a statement. “We can’t separate what happened yesterday from the inadequate aid supplies.”

With people eating animal feed and even cactuses to survive, and with medics saying children are dying in hospitals from malnutrition and dehydration, the U.N. has said it faces “overwhelming obstacles” getting in aid.

The U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA said obstacles included “crossing closures, restrictions on movement and communications, onerous vetting procedures, unrest, damaged roads and unexploded ordnance.”

Last week the U.N. said aid flows into Gaza were drying up and it was becoming increasingly hard to distribute aid within the enclave because of a collapse in security, with most residents hemmed into makeshift camps.

Israel has said there is no limit on humanitarian aid in Gaza and has said the quantity and pace of delivery was down to the U.N.

Israel’s military said Thursday’s delivery was operated by private contractors as part of an aid operation it had been overseeing. It gave no details on how the aid was intended to be distributed.


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